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Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: A PML-N firebrand and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, on Tuesday admitted for the first time that his wife and children were US citizens, but criticised the Pakistani media for “unnecessarily playing it up” when in fact it was his personal matter.

The revelation about the family of the PML-N leader, who otherwise is perceived in political circles as one who is opposed to the American policies in the region, were part of a confidential US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

Visibly disturbed by media coverage of the issue, Chaudhry Nisar made serious attempts at a news conference to defend his family by stating that his wife was already holding dual nationality when he married her in late 1980s as his in-laws were settled in the US since 1970s.

The citizenship issue was disclosed in a secret cable sent by the then US Ambassador in Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson, to Washington after her meeting with him soon after becoming opposition leader three years ago. The US ambassador had stated that the PML-N leader had assured her that he and his party were “pro-American”.

“As always, Nisar insisted that he and the PML-N were pro-American (saying that his wife and children in fact are Americans),” said the cable sent to Washington on Sept 19, 2008.

According to the cable, “(Ch) Nisar did admit that he went to the US Embassy in London to renew his daughter’s passport because he wanted to avoid being seen at the US Embassy in Islamabad.”

It further stated: “Ch Nisar was cagier, noting that US attacks over the past few weeks hurt the hearts and minds campaign. He called for more transparency in the bilateral relationship and reserved the right to criticise US actions to remain politically credible.”

In her comments at the end of the cable, the ambassador wrote: “Nisar appears to be positioning himself to be a candidate for prime minister, if the Sharifs are disqualified in the upcoming battle with the PPP over control of the Punjab. Nisar is at heart a nationalist, and he will be an eloquent and formidable opposition leader. But he does recognise the need to stay in the good graces of the US, and we should invite him to Washington when an opportunity arises.”

Interestingly at the news conference, the PML-N leader said the contents of most of the WikiLeaks cables seemed to be true.

However, he said, these cables were based on the assessment and understanding of the diplomats which could be wrong.

Ch Nisar denied that he had ever visited the US Embassy in London in connection with the renewal of his daughter’s passport.

He said perhaps the ambassador had misunderstood what he had stated at that time. In fact, he said, there was no need for him to visit the US Embassy for renewal of his children’s passports as, according to him, this job was performed by his wife.

The PML-N leader said that he was feeling pain while discussing his family matters before the media as he always kept his family away from politics and official work. “I am a person who wants to live a private life,” he said, adding that he had been forced to come out with this explanation despite opposition by some of his party colleagues and friends because his “honesty and patriotism” were being questioned by some people through a malicious propaganda campaign using WikiLeaks cables.

“For me it is necessary that no one can raise finger at my self-respect and patriotism,” he said, adding that four generations of his family had worked for the country’s defence and gave blood to the motherland. “Therefore, it had become difficult for me to remain silent,” Ch Nisar told journalists.

Turning to more serious issues, perhaps to deflect the focus from his family’s American citizenship issue, Chaudhry Nisar claimed before the journalists that a high-level American delegation stated in talks with his party that Pakistan Army was involved in terrorism.

“They said not Gen Musharraf, your army is involved in terrorism,” the PML-N leader quoted US Senator John Kerry and now US vice-president Joe Biden as saying while speaking at a news conference he had called to respond to a WikiLeaks cable that disclosed the American citizenship of his wife and children.

Chaudhry Nisar said the offensive remark was made when he, at a meeting the US delegation had with PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif immediately after the 2008 general election, protested the US support to a military dictator instead for the people of Pakistan. At this the Americans “flared up and hit the roof”. The then US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson had to intervene to prevent the situation from worsening.

Ch Nisar recalled a number of his meetings with visiting US officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asserting that in each meeting he opposed the post-9/11 US policy towards Muslims and suggested that US withdraw from the region.

The PML-N leader clarified that he was not against the American nation, but was opposed to the US policy towards Muslims after the 9/11 attack.